Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds vs Sony WF-1000XM5: which are better?

The world of premium true wireless earbuds seems to move a mile a minute these days. With the ink still drying on our review of Sony's exemplary WF-1000XM5 wireless earbuds, Bose confirmed that it, too, would be releasing its own challenger to compete within this most crowded of markets. Say goodbye to the Bose QuietComfort Earbuds II, and hello to the all-new QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

Don't let the name confuse you: the Ultra Earbuds are essentially the direct replacement for the Award-winning QC Earbuds II, albeit with a new name and a new price tag. The XM5 are Award-winning buds, but they're not invincible.

In truth, the Bose QC Earbuds II facing off against the XM5 was a battle for the ages, with many members of our team torn between the punch and dynamism offered by the Bose in contrast to the precision and clarity boasted over in the Sony camp. Similar arguments may be raging within the walls of your home or at your favourite spot in your local, but one thing is for certain: this is going to be one heck of a fight for true wireless supremacy. Let's get into it.

Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds vs Sony WF-1000XM5: price

Bose QuietComfort Ultra charging case with a single earbud outside

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Bose Ultra Earbuds and the Sony WF-1000XM5 are both firms' flagship noise-cancelling wireless earbuds.

The QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds launched at £300 / $299 / AU$450 while the Sony XM5 will set you back around £259 / $299 / AU$419. That could give the Sonys the edge, for UK and Australian customers at least.

With both pairs new to the market, expect these prices to hold up. You might find a good deal around Black Friday, and if so, you should pounce. Their predecessors, however, should see plenty of deals, so keep an eye on the Bose QC Earbuds II and Sony XM4.

** Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5**

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs Sony WF-1000XM5: design

in-ear headphones: Sony WF-1000XM5

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds might have a new name, but they look very similar to the QC Earbuds II that came before them. The only changes are a new metallic treatment for a sleeker, more "luxe" aesthetic, and a new interlocking fit for the stability bands to help the buds stay secure.

We didn’t really have a problem with their predecessors, but this does help you line the bands up quicker if you find yourself having to swap to a different size. And just like their predecessors, they are very comfortable to wear. Comfier even than the Sony XM5.

The Sonys are an attractive and comfortable pair of buds, even if we're unconvinced that this is the very pinnacle of design and wearability of which Sony is capable. Many members of our testing team have had issues with the spongey ear tips provided with the premium buds, with quite a few even preferring the more ergonomic design of the cheaper WF-C700N model. Being outdone by a cheaper stablemate is never a good look.

** Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds **

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs Sony WF-1000XM5: features

Sony WF-1000XM5 lifestyle pic with charging case in-hand.

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Bose Immersive Audio is the headline-grabbing party piece built into the new QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds. It's Bose's take on spatial audio.

The US company claims it creates "a wider, more spacious soundstage so your content becomes multi-dimensional and layered, regardless of the audio platform or device". Essentially, it promises a deeper, better-organised soundstage for, as you might have guessed, a more immersive listening experience. But in reality, the results are rather mixed.

When it works well, the sound does appear to raise itself out of your head, creating a greater sense of spaciousness. The music sounds like it's coming at you from a slightly different angle.

But with some tracks it just doesn’t come together. In Motion mode in particular, you can hear a delay and phase issues as the processing struggles to track your head movements. Even the slightest head movement causes an abrupt shift in the imaging, which we found distracting.

Bose claims the QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds boast improved call quality compared to their predecessors. The headphones can now prioritise the mic on each bud that is experiencing the least noise and also filter out extra noise so your voice sounds clearer.

And during testing, we found the new model does provide a big step up. Background noise was more heavily suppressed and broke through less often, while our voices came through much more clearly.

Noise cancelling returns, and is implemented just as well as on the QC Earbuds II. Battery life remains unchanged, at six hours (plus 18 hours from the charging case), but if you use Immersive Audio, this drops to just four. There's also no Bluetooth multipoint, so you can't connect to two devices wirelessly and switch between them seamlessly. Hopefully this will arrive via a firmware update soon.

The XM5 do have multipoint, as well as the same IPX4 water resistance as the Bose, PreciseVoicePickup technology, LDAC codec support and some rather superb noise cancelling (more on that later). Sony's Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE), the brand's clever upscaling technology, is on hand to enhance the quality of compressed low-quality audio files.

Sony's premium buds also make use of a handy Speak-to-Chat feature, which reduces the volume of what you're listening to (or even pauses) when it recognises you're speaking. And they also support their own spatial audio format: 360 Reality Audio.

Sony offers a little more battery than the Bose, with eight hours from the buds plus another 16 from the charging case. The two are equal with a total battery life of 24 hours, but Sony's more-from-the-buds gives them the edge.

** Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5 **

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs Sony WF-1000XM5: noise cancelling 

Bose QuietComfort Ultra charging case with a single earbud being held

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

With a line called QuietComfort, you would expect Bose to be pretty good at noise cancellation. And it is.

The QC Ultra Earbuds' ANC is just as good as the QC Earbuds II's. Bose's newer buds take the noisiest environments – whether it's the rumble of heavy machinery as you walk past a building site or the loud chatter and sound system of a crowded pub – and reduce their impact dramatically.

Every time you pluck the buds from their case and place them in your ears, Bose’s CustomTune calibration tech lets out a tone as it surveys the noise in your environment and adjusts the sound accordingly. You can set different levels of noise cancellation for different situations, and the Aware mode balances out your music with surrounding noise so you can hear just enough of both worlds and not be completely sealed off in your own sonic bubble.

One slight nuance we found during testing was the earbuds tended to emphasise certain loud noises. For example, the clunk of train doors closing together was actually over-emphasised instead of being subdued. But the Bose are still class leaders in terms of noise-cancelling earbuds.

The Sony WF-1000XM5 come equipped not only with decent active noise-cancelling but also Sony's Adaptive Sound Control that adjusts depending on your location and surroundings. They're utterly at home making voice calls, as Sony's Wind Noise Reduction Structure makes a noticeable difference if you're on the phone in blustery conditions. Voice calls on the XM5 sound clear, natural and transparent, adding another feather to the earbuds' sizeable cap of clever features. 

These premium earbuds offer 20 per cent more noise cancellation than the older XM4 model, something we found to be utterly believable during testing. Each earbud has an additional mic (three on each) for more effective filtering of unwanted noise, working most effectively in the sonic midranges. 

** Winner: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds **

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs Sony WF-1000XM5: sound quality

Sony WF-1000XM5 with Headphones Connect app open on-screen.

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The XM5's bigger 8.4mm Dynamic Driver X is more advanced than the XM4's, and is equipped with a larger magnet which Sony claims not only improves audio fidelity but also the effectiveness of ANC, especially at low frequencies. 

As a departure from their predecessors' more musical approach, the XM5 prioritise detail, nuance and clarity to an astonishing level, giving songs room to breathe within a wide, spacious canvas. In doing so, they reveal so much more texture and layers of subtlety to any song or any genre that we play through them. Some may prefer a more dynamic and immediately likeable flavour to their wireless earbuds, but it's hard to deny just how impressive Sony's latest are at revealing a track's various intricacies and intentions.

The QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are similar tonally to their predecessors – with a familiar richness – but they're a bit punchier and clearer. They're not as insightful or transparent as the XM5, but it's an altogether different sonic profile, and one that has plenty going for it.

The presentation has a decent sense of spaciousness, and bass notes hit with real depth and weight. Theirs is a musical, entertaining sound, albeit not as detailed as the XM5.

** Winner: Sony WF-1000XM5 **

Bose QC Ultra Earbuds vs Sony WF-1000XM5: verdict

In-ear headphones: Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds

(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Given the rivalry between Sony and Bose, it's no surprise this head-to-head was hotly anticipated. The Sony XM5 have a more impressive feature set, and to our ears, their analytical, terrifically detailed sound is a little better and more rewarding than Bose's more energetic, fun performance (though this will depend on your preference). The XM5 have been out longer too, and so are more likely to be discounted.

But the Bose QuietComfort Ultra Earbuds are more comfortable, and have more comprehensive noise-cancelling technology. If those are high on your list of priorities, the Bose could be the better bet.


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Read our full Sony WF-1000XM5 review

Harry McKerrell
Staff writer

Harry McKerrell is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi?. During his time at the publication, he has written countless news stories alongside features, advice and reviews of products ranging from floorstanding speakers and music streamers to over-ear headphones, wireless earbuds and portable DACs. He has covered launches from hi-fi and consumer tech brands, and major industry events including IFA, High End Munich and, of course, the Bristol Hi-Fi Show. When not at work he can be found playing hockey, practising the piano or trying to pet strangers' dogs. 

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